The Gold Cup market is dominated by two horses whom opposed each other last year, and who much feature prominently in any analysis of the 2014 renewal. Much has been written about the pair and much is perceived to be known. Bob’s Worth: gritty, determined. Silviniaco Conti: tough, genuine, a thorough stayer. The unknown variable between the two of remains however: Would Bob’s Worth have won the 2013 Gold Cup if Silviniaco Conti had stood up? Notwithstanding that we do not know the answer to this question, the market seems to suggest that the winner is likely to come from these two. Whether this presupposition is accurate is a point that we will return to later.
The previous form between them is inconclusive as to who would have emerged victorious then and who is most likely to when they meet again. The first time that they met was in the Feltham in 2011, with Paul Nicholls’ charge finishing some 3 lengths ahead of Bob’s Worth, but finding the enigmatic Grands Crus too much to handle. They subsequently opposed each other again in that season’s Reynoldstown, with Alfie Spinner splitting the pair but none of the three were a match for the Alan King trained Invictus. Both of these came runs on Good to Soft ground and on tracks perceived as being unsuited to Bob’s Worth in that they are right handed and flat, and the flatter track is perceived to have been an issue for him when flopping in behind Cue Card in the Betfair chase. Silviniaco Conti acquitted himself much better that day, but was still no match for the winner.
So why is Cue Card seemingly becoming less fashionable as a viable alternative to them? Largely this appears to be because of the King George where he faded between two out and the line on going softer than he would like.
For some reason, it has often appeared as if there has been a wider campaign to denigrate Cue Card, or further the myth that he is somehow not one to be trusted. Probably this relates back to his defeat when favourite for (what transpired to be a very high class renewal of) the Supreme in 2011, when he came home behind subsequent Paddy Power winner Al Ferof, the much lamented Spirit Son and none other than Sprinter Sacre.
For an example, see the following definition:
‘Extrapolation – noun – Infer more widely from a limited range of known facts.’
Cue Card’s performance in the King George on Boxing Day has lead to a widely held opinion that he will not stay the Gold Cup trip, and should be targeted elsewhere. The question is, why? There is just as much, if not more evidence, to suggest that the contrary is in fact true. It sounds reductive, but people seem only too willing to believe it because they have already decided that it is true. Also, the instalment of Bob’s Worth as 9/4 market leader requires a leap of faith to accept that the Haydock form is too bad to be true and should be ignored. Cue Card however is not afforded that same luxury. The popular opinion is now that he does not stay.
Starting with his breeding, Cue Card’s dam was the useful Wicked Crack, a mare who’s stamina was considered sufficient for her to have a tilt at the Grand National in 2002. Whilst limited evidence is presented as to her suitability for such a task (she fell at the first), she was nonetheless victorious three times as hurdler over 24 furlongs and twice as a chaser over 21f. Being by King’s Theatre also gives no such worries as to his stamina. In purely breeding terms, the Gold Cup trip should hold no fears for him.
There is a tendency to assume in racing terms that the most recent piece of information available is definitively the most accurate. Presumably in racing the thought is born from our desire to quantify everything for the purpose of a betting market, so therefore what we know now trumps what we thought before simply because we saw it happen. Therefore, the King George proves that Cue Card doesn’t stay, it proves Silviniaco Conti is superior to him and the Lexus proves that Bob’s Worth has not substantially regressed. Science seems to operate on the reverse; that the more we learn only serves to make us realise how little we know in a wider sense. On objective analysis of the form, there should be little to choose between the three in market on the basis of the form we’ve seen, with slight favouritism being assigned to Bob’s Worth based on last season’s heroics. But there is not. The Lexus form disproves the conclusions we drew from the Betfair, and so does the King George.
Arguably, it should be the case that now the wider knowledge we have of the form makes difficult to assess accurately which piece of form should be assigned the most weight. But a decision has been made: to accord with the result last year (form we know and apparently trust), the Lexus is the most valuable piece of form, the Betfair the least. This is the reason Cue Card is more than twice the price of Silviniaco Conti, whose King George win is allotted second billing in this form hierarchy and accordingly places him as second in the market. Bob’s Worth is shorter still on this basis. However, consider this hypothetical: If the King George had been in November, and the Betfair in December, the market would have a totally different appearance to it. Cue Card would be disputing favouritism (as he in fact was in November) and Silvianco Conti would be getting progressively easier to back.
This line of thinking is arguably as reductive as ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’ in terms of leading to conclusions that do not have a fundamental basis in reality, and cause dangerous assumptions to be made. The latin maxim above translates to ‘afterwards therefore because of’ and causes one to question whether one action is necessarily causative of another, merely because it occurs chronologically later and in ignorance of any external factors on the two events if they were considered in isolation.
To this end, refer back to the assumption that Cue Card doesn’t stay. On the most recent evidence, viewed in isolation, this would arguably be true. However, if Cue Card does not stay 3 miles, then how is his performance in the Betfair Chase explained? When considering these two facts together, can it still be definitively claimed that a lack of stamina explains a defeat over 24 furlongs on Boxing Day, given that he was running away at the line on Betfair Chase day, over an extended 3 miles?
The Racing Post report of Cue Card at Kempton reads ‘at least 2 lengths clear 2 out, faltered and headed before last, one pace.’ So continuing the thought from the paragraph above, the idea is not so much that he wouldn’t have stayed 3 miles that day, but that he probably only actually stayed about 2 and three quarter miles. Again, this doesn’t exactly tie up with the Haydock form which ends ‘ridden after last, drew clear last 110yards’.
So what caused the difference?
Potentially it could be the effects of the virus which was troubling the Tizzard’s yard at the time. Although in the build up it was stated that their stable star had not been affected, he did appear to go from travelling well to empty very quickly, in a way that might lead you to think that he wasn’t 100%. More on this will doubtless come out in the future but at the moment, however possible, it remains conjecture.
The more likely cause is the differing tactics employed by Noel Fehily on Silvinaco Conti in the two contests. Far more prominent at Kempton than at Haydock, he did not allow Cue Card to dictate in the same way as he had in November and did not allow Tizzard to set the fractions that he wanted to, seemingly pushing him to go a little faster than anticipated. In a short termist way, this worked. Whether or not these tactics would work at festival held on good ground is another question entirely. Firstly, with the exception of his victory in weak Grade 2 at Aintree on good ground in 2012 (13 lengths from Champion Court – who had come off the back of a hard run in the Jewson, whereas Silvinaco Conti had swerved that year’s festival) the majority of Silvinaco Conti’s better form has occurred with cut in the ground, as there was on King George day.
The previous success of the tactics described above mean that they are likely to be employed again. But would they work so well second time around? At Kempton they had a degree of shock value, and Tizzard allowed Fehily to push him to go that little bit quicker. But wiser for the experience, would he do so again, or would he be brave enough to let Silviniaco Conti to go on past him and let Cue Card get a tow into the race instead if the other way around. One strongly suspects that he might. In any event, it is not beyond the realms of that if this year’s Gold Cup takes place on Good or Good to Soft ground then Silvinaco Conti may not be able to lie up with Cue Card simply because he is not quick enough. His best chance to win a Gold Cup may have been in 2013 when he crashed out three from home when travelling well.
The bizarre thing about last year’s Gold Cup is there is a perception that it was a good quality renewal and form that it represents is rock solid. But does the form bear out this presupposition? Long Run, beaten 9.75 lengths last year has been so disappointing subsequently that he will not even be targeted at the race this year. Until he made amends in the Argento by making best use of a good swing at the weights, The Giant Bolster had also been a huge disappointment and he was only beaten some 16 lengths last year. Even Sir Des Champs form was a little dubious before his season ending injury, with one non completion and a 4th in the Lexus to his name.
This might read a little dismissive in relation to Bob’s Worth and his chances of retaining his crown. The intention is not to denigrate him as a Gold Cup winner, but it would’ve been hard to pick him as the winner in running last year and when taken out of his comfort zone at Haydock he was found wanting. Although he did mount a successful retrieval mission in the Lexus over Christmas, the race itself was muddling in the extreme. In relative terms they all finished in something of a heap thanks to a lack of pace in the early part of the race, and even then Bob’s Worth displayed some flaws in his jumping which had also been present at Haydock. Whether Cue Card will force him out his comfort zone again at put this jumping under pressure again remains to be seen. It is worth bearing in mind that their only other meeting the pair were separated by a only short head, with Cue Card attempting to give away 7lbs in a two and a half mile novice chase in 2011.
The market seems very dismissive of the last year’s RSA winner Lord Windermere. Arguably he met ill fortune in running when favourite for the Hennessy at Newbury (when badly hampered by the fall of Katenko) and not getting his favoured ground in the Irish equivalent most recently. Highly regarded by his trainer, last year’s festival form is by far the best that he has put up over fences, but one of very few times he has encountered his favoured good ground. The perception is that the second season chasers represent a weak bunch and official ratings bear this theory out to a degree (he is rated some 26lbs inferior to Bob’s Worth) but with some improvement in the going, he would much likely run much closer than ratings would allow. If he is considered to be the best of the second season chasers (although in reality he is fairly closely matched with RSA runner up Lyreen Legend) then it seems fairly unlikely that the Gold Cup winner is going to come from this bunch.
Therefore, the winner of the Irish Hennessy, Last Instalment, probably represents the last viable alternative to the previously known form. A talented but fragile horse, Philip Fenton has doubts whether he will make the festival at all. If he does, the Ryanair may be his port of call. Previously unconsidered until his recent career highlight, it still takes a leap of faith to get to him being crowned a Gold Cup (or even Ryanair winner). In form terms, if the second season novices aren’t that good, then the Hennessy cannot represent good form, with the relatively respectable showings of Lord Windermere and Lyreen Legend. Further, the running on presence of Tidal Bay (who although much beloved by the writer and being primed for a victory in the Grand National) gives the form an uneasy air. Previously, Last Instalment’s best form over fences was a narrow defeat of Call The Police as a novice, but the way that rival was dismissed in the RSA of that year by Bob’s Worth and First Lieutenant is a concern even before you take into account a near two year absence. It might appear cynical, and also somewhat churlish, to suggest that his presence near the top end of the Gold Cup market is further proof that the strength of the form is not the key to market position. The most important thing is being recent.
Selection: Cue Card